The enormous crowds. The television and radio interviews. And, of course, the money. I know of few writers that don't dream of being as famous as J.K. Rowling, Brandon Sanderson, or Stephen King. We long to discover our books on bookstore shelves and hear about book groups discussing our carefully crafted novels.
Writing is a highly romanticized career. Like many artistic careers, those who do end up in the spotlight make it seem ideal to be a published author. Once you've published, you have it MADE. And yet, my first year as a published author has made it clear that this isn't an overnight gig, and most of it is far from romantic.
Accurate, much? Yes. As I'm typing this, I'm sitting on a rocker chair in my (let's be real, messy) bedroom while my kids are having a dance party in the living room. My inspirational piano playlist is punctuated by gleeful (and not so gleeful) screams, the toilet flushing, and music from the Trolls soundtrack. It's pretty rare that you'll find me at the library or Starbucks with a paper cup at my side, headphones in, pounding out golden word after golden word. And yet, this is how writers are thought of and often portrayed in the media.
Writing to produce a short story or novel is hard work. A LOT of hard work. And most of it is done in isolation. People often ask me how long it takes for me to write a book. I tell them that it depends on how much takeout we eat and whether I have a babysitter during the week or not. This is the reality for me as a homeschooling mom of four (almost five!) kids. "Woven" took me four years to go from concept to published. It's sequel, "Bound", comes out next month, 13 months from concept to publication. I've written a few short stories and novellas in that time as well, and started several projects. So, you can see that the timeline really varies depending on my life, my priorities, and the project itself.
Besides dealing with less-than-desirable creative atmospheres and life-interruptions, there is a host of tasks a published author has to complete in order to maintain even a modicum of success. I wasn't so naive before I published to think all I had to do was hit "submit" and my publisher would take care of everything. I had been to writing conferences and I thought I knew what to expect, but nothing could prepare me for the myriad of hats I've had to wear in the past year. Allow me to give you a glimpse.
We all know Horror is not for the faint of heart, and you should be expected to steel your nerves when diving into a book of that genre. Writing a book around those themes can be rather difficult, and it isn’t for everyone, but elements of horror can be incorporated into any genre. Here, I’m going to talk a bit about different aspects of horror, and how you can blend them into your stories for a more adult, slightly darker feel.
Horror is not a monster. It’s not a simple thing that can be defined as any one subject. It’s not what we put into the story that makes it horror. It is a state of being. It is the feeling of unease. Making sure the reader isn’t completely comfortable even though they’re sitting in a plush armchair. It’s taking the status quo of the world and twisting it. This can be done in two basic ways. Physical, and Psychological.
The physical horror are things that go bump in the night. Monsters that come for your children, or a bloody wound. It’s great at shocking the reader or creating an instant reaction of unease. This can be done by adding in a bit more description on an injury. People don’t like to imagine our bodies being broken. A healthy, whole human body is the norm. It is the status quo. But a mangled body, one that has been torn at and even possibly damaged for life, will cause your reader to shiver. No one wants to imagine that could be them.
Psychological horror is my personal favorite. This is not a shocking element. It’s not something that will be obvious to your reader immediately. Instead, these elements of horror are things of the mind. Things that make someone question people, reality, or their own sanity. This can easily be done by adding in a character with a mental illness of some kind. It’s very important to do a lot of research about what malady you’d like to show before you try to write anything. It’s a very serious problem and should be handled with respect. But if you do respect it and research it, then a character portraying a mental illness can add so much flavor to a story. Someone who doesn’t see the world through a status quo, because their world has been warped and flipped. Someone to make the reader question what the mind really sees, because they see something so different. Psychological horror are the things that stay with the reader even after they’ve put down the book. That chill that stays in their spine long after walking away because something might have changed in their own minds.
There are many other examples of physical and psychological horror, but for the sake of a short blog, I’m not going to get into all of them. Horror is a great genre, just like all of them, but you shouldn’t be limited to simply one genre when writing any book. Putting elements of horror into your story is a great way to add in some unease and tension. Just a little something to send chills down your reader’s back.
"6 stages of Grief" series was drawn by me, Marlena Hancock
Follow me at twitter.com/UltimaSheep
See more art at deviantart.com/xakriuth
If you’ve ever been to a writing conference, you’ve likely heard questions about how majority writers can accurately portray underrepresented demographics. Writers often hear about how so many books are dominated by white heterosexual characters, and many want to include other types of people, sensitively, into their stories. They want to be the solution to the scarcity.
This is a wonderful desire to have, and we should definitely include accurate representations of all sorts of people in our work. However, there’s a fine line between being inclusive and trying to tell a story we don’t understand and can’t accurately portray (or shouldn’t try to, even if we feel we can). No matter how good our intentions are, there are stories that would be better told by someone who knows more about it—who is closer to it.
The writing community is full of some of the kindest people in the world. At least that's been my experience. Writers are free with their compliments, ready to offer service or support, and incredibly demonstrative when you finally get to meet face to face. These are the traits that make deep friendships, so even though I live in a completely different state than most of my writing colleagues, they are some of the dearest friends.
However, sometimes being a writer can feel a little like being on a desert island. You have to isolate yourself from distractions to spend time at the keyboard or page. But at the same time, we can't become a black hole of ideas with no relatable experiences to draw from. So, today, I'd like to introduce you to a revitalizing tool I use in my writing life.
There are many benefits to collaborative projects. In fact, it's one of the greatest and most enriching experiences writers can have. Bringing multiple brains and mediums to the same project levels up a story's potential in a major way. The energy, excitement, and momentum that collaboration produces makes inkling ideas transform into tri-dimensional sagas. Then, once your masterpiece is complete, you have an expanded circle of influence and networking to draw from to help spread the good news! And the best part of all, is that you have someone to share the excitement of creation with.
How to select a collaborative partner:
In today's world you don't have to live close to the people you want to work with. My artist lives in Idaho. My musical team lives in Utah. I live in California. Thanks to Google Hangouts and Drive, we can all talk and collaborate on the same document simultaneously. However, it's important to consider a few things carefully before jumping into a project with someone. Here are my critical ingredients to look for when selecting a collaborative partner, and a critical ingredient to be for them.
Writing presents a unique dilemma compared to other jobs. There are few markings of success by which to judge ourselves on along the road to publishing.
I worked at Starbucks before I had my first little one. Every day I knew exactly what needed to be done, and when. In the morning iced teas and coffees required prepping, grinders needed filling, and pastries were stocked with a set number of goodies, each placed in an enticing display. In other words, there was a clearly defined checklist, and when the list was accomplished, it felt good! Then there were the drinks. To this day I still can put my body through the motions of making a Frappuccino. Fill the Blender with ice, three pumps of white mocha, three pumps of “Frappuccino Sauce” and milk. Then I blend, pour, and finish with a beautiful crown of whip cream. I knew when I did it right because it looked beautiful, and the customer was happy (well…most of the time).
Unfortunately, writing isn’t like that, is it? Sometimes I trick myself into thinking that it is. I will happily create a checklist of chapters, scenes, and themes and feel that same sense of satisfaction as I check them off after a productive writing session is over. I try to quantify my work by setting out to write a certain number of hours or words in one sitting.
I meet a lot of writers. At expos and book signings, at writing conferences and even less-expected places, like the grocery store and church functions. I love meeting like-minded people! Some of these writers are published authors, either traditional or indie published. Some are still in the pre-publication phase, looking hopefully towards an as-of-yet unrealized future where their works are published. I find that writers in the pre-publication crowd tend to fit into two categories.
The first are actively seeking to better themselves and their writing. They go to conferences, listen to podcasts, peruse blogs, but most of all they WRITE. They write until their fingers bleed. They press friends and family to read what they've written, grit their teeth and take any criticism that comes. They query agents endlessly, take notes at writing conferences, and get flustered when an already-published author asks them what they write or what their story is about...then take the advice they are given to improve the pitch. These are the ones who are motivated to become published writers. They have goals, steps they are actively taking to pursue that pie in the sky and make writing their career. These are the ones that are becoming more and more rare because self-publishing makes it so easy to push a button and say "I'm published." These are the writers I call potential "career writers".
Then there's the second kind of pre-published writer. They write...or rather, they have a story they started once years ago, sometimes decades. It might even still be just an idea. They can tell you the plot, recite character names, traits, and background stories by heart, but if you ask about publication or when they will be finished, that's when it gets awkward. There are always excuses. They might not even remember the last time they wrote. They they clearly love writing, but it is pretty obvious that this is a different breed of writer than the first. I call these "hobby writers".
Now I want to be clear, right here at the beginning. Both of these types of writers are wonderful, creative, talented people. Both of these writers have vast amounts of potential. Both are fantastic individuals whom I respect and would love to be friends with. They can both call themselves writers, and honestly, I've been in both positions at different parts of my life.
Both writers are best served by one valuable thing: acknowledging what writing is to them.
By understanding if you intend to make writing a career (or if it already is!) or if it's simply a hobby, you can prioritize your life without feeling the guilt that comes with taking too much or not enough time on something. If you know writing is like a career to you, then giving it more time and space in your life would be a priority over most other things. If you know writing is more like a hobby, then letting it go so you can do things you enjoy more will create so much more freedom. It's all about expectations.
To be extra clear, I don't mean "career" in the sense of "job". Many career authors have regular day jobs like anyone else, either to make ends meet because their writing career provides a hobby-sized income, or because they enjoy their day job and just don't care to quit. What separates hobby authors and career authors is largely one word: PROGRESS. Check out these dictionary definitions of "hobby" and "career" that I love:
Disclaimer: This post contains images that depict mild nudity
Where do ideas come from? Well that should be an obvious answer. They com from our minds. But as obvious as it seems, it’s really far more complicated than that. Ideas are formed from countless experiences, people, and things from the real world. All of those things are then organized into different patterns and from this, you can get a story. Just as stories are formed like this, so too are dreams. Stories and dreams are often one in the same. I’m not talking about dreams or goals for the future, I mean breaking reality, creating your own worlds, being at the mercy of your subconscious as it processes all of those experiences, people, and things from the real world. Dreams are the raw forms of stories, and they are an incredibly amazing tool to use when writing.
As we all know, dreams are fleeting. Many people don’t remember them at all, or lose details very quickly. When dreaming, things are usually out of your control. Things often to make sense. It seems like this would be a terrible reference of writing, because who would want to read about the nightmare of standing in class in your underwear while pink dogs float through the air? Not many, but does that mean these dreams may be useless? I can’t say. No one can say for sure, so why not try to remember? You never know what random element from a jumble of colors and sounds may fit perfectly into your picture, even if it just looks like a jumbled mess.
Everyone dreams differently. The subconscious is really an amazing thing and it is unique between each and every person. Because of this, the advice I can give for how I remember my dreams may not work for everyone. It’ll likely work for very few, but I write this regardless on the off chance that I can help anyone. That’s what this is all about, right?
The first step is to try and have vivid dreams. Listening to soft music and thinking about creative elements is a good way to prepare your brain to dream vividly. Your brain never shuts down, even when you rest. It’s only processing everything, and so if you put it into a position of creativity, then that processing might also be done in a creative fashion.
Next is to prepare yourself for a good, long sleep. The most vivid dreaming happens in the REM state, which stands for rapid eye movement. It is achieved after about four hours of sleep, so if you are waking up constantly in the night, achieving vivid dreams will be much harder.
Keep a notebook and pen right next to your bed. When you do wake up from a dream, the details and pictures will trickle away like water, so you have to write them down quickly. I don’t care what time it is. I don’t care how long it will take. If I wake up from a vivid dream, I always write it down immediately with as much detail as I remember. This way, I can refer to it when I’m more awake.
If you do these three simple things consistently, then you’re likely to get some pretty interesting ideas from your dreams.
Lastly, should you use everything in your dreams for stories? Of course not! Dreams are crazy. They hold some of the deepest emotions in our subconscious. They are wrapped in chaos and symbolism. Most things won’t even make sense to you, so how would they make sense to any kind of a reader? But in this state, we find our raw creativity. The most base part of our very selves that deserves to be heard. That’s why I encourage you to write down everything you can. Take all those elements because you never know which may be important. You may even discover something amazing about yourself in the process. So good luck. Dream happily, and dream horribly, for all of it is a part of you and your creativity.
All the pictures provided were drawn by me, Marlena Money
A special shout out to these images, for they came directly from my personal dreams
Writing is amazing! There is nothing quite like piecing together details and stringing them into a successful story that draws readers in. Writing is such a wonderful way to hone creativity and add beauty and understanding to the world. I LOVE to write! And most of the time, I feel like I’m pretty good at it. It can be hard for me to get started, but I love the times when I get lost in my work.
Unfortunately, I am also very, VERY insecure, both about myself and my writing.
Last week in our weekly Writing Through Brambles meeting we held a passive voice clinic. Each of us sought out passive sentences from our current works in progress and obliterated them. By the end of the night, we each felt so energized and inspired, I thought it would be awesome to invite you to join a mini clinic here with us. I will post the discussions we had and the problems we worked through so you can edit right alongside us! So whip out your work in progress and get ready to improve your writing!
Why is passive writing such a detrimental thing? Author Bree Moore shared this article with the group if you'd like further reading, but essentially it comes down to two crucial facts. First, writing in a passive voice pulls your readers out of the action. Active voice will put your reader in your characters shoes and make them feel enveloped in the story.
Second, passive writing muddies up your sentences with filler words. For example:
She had been expecting- no, not expecting- hoping for this letter. Her eager fingers were greasy and they left black fingerprints all over the pure white surface. She was so desperate to open it that she really didn’t care. Inside was an entire packet, neatly stapled together at the top.
Word count: 50
She expected- no, not expected- hoped for this letter. Her eager fingers left greasy fingerprints on the pure white surface. She felt too desperate to care. Inside sat a neatly stapled packet.
Word count: 32
I didn't change any of the content, but I eliminated 28 words bogging down the pace of my story.
So, with these two benefits in mind, lets move on to the grammatical rules of passive vs. active writing. Verbs are at the core of your success. Each sentence will have a subject and an action. The subject is the noun that will be doing something in your sentence.
In active writing, the subject acts.
In passive writing, the subject is acted upon.
Active: The car hit me.
Passive: I was hit by the car.
Do you see how wordy the passive sentence is and how punchy the active sentence is? Now, if this concept is a little hard to grasp, don't worry. You can read up about it here in greater depth, but here's a quick tip to help you kick out passive sentences aggressively...
The verb "to be" and all it's conjugations are the culprit behind most passive writing. So, if you press control+f in your word processor and search out the following words, you will isolate the sentences that need editing.
Be, Am, Is, Are, Was, Were, Been, Being.
At first, when my publisher gave me this recommendation for a self edit round, my jaw dropped. These words are so common! Could I really make it through my entire manuscript without using these? I began my search, slowly rooting out these words and I cut out over 5,000 words without cutting any scenes or plot. That means that I had 5,000 words of clutter sitting in my manuscript bogging it down! Once I removed these words, I was amazed at how different my manuscript looked. I can't wait for you to see what it does for you!
So, search through your manuscript and find "to be". Leave a comment with your before and after sentences for me to see. And if you have any questions, feel free to reach out. Happy writing!
Written by Rachel Huffmire
I attended my last two writing conferences with a baby strapped to my chest. It terrified me and added a decent amount of anxiety. I pictured him crying inconsolably while other attendees glared at me for selfishly ruining their learning opportunity. It took a lot of deep breaths, and a good pep talk to convince myself that just because I was a mother did not mean I also had to be stuck at home. I had talents, I deserved to learn, and I was also a capable mother who could take care of her child in a public setting. So, off I went.
The bravery to go didn’t come on its own, though. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful support group. The girls at Writing Through Brambles are passionate about motherhood and their writing, and believe the two go hand in hand. This belief has led us to create an anthology centered on mothers called Beyond Instinct.
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.